Two years ago this month, I experienced every parent's worst nightmare.
My 10-year-old son Connor, crazy about baseball, was anticipating Little League tryouts, so, mitts in hand, we jogged over to the neighborhood ball field one afternoon.
We were playing catch when Connor overthrew me and the ball landed in a nearby clump of bushes. I headed into the tall thicket, found the ball and yelled, "Here's a pop-up!" and launched the ball in the air.
What happened next is still a blur. As I ducked back through the low-hanging branches, I heard a sickening thump, followed by Connor's cry. I rushed out to find him lying on the ground, clutching his head. Apparently, the ball had hit him when he tried to make a diving catch.
Connor has suffered so many head bonks on the playground over the years, at first I didn't think the injury was too bad. But hours later -- after he complained of headaches and nausea -- I rushed him to the local emergency room.
By the time we arrived, Connor's pain was so bad he could barely walk. Following an MRI, I knew there was trouble just by looking at the radiologist's face. "We have to get your son to Children's Hospital," he said. "He has a hematoma, and he needs to be examined by a pediatric neurologist."
When confronted with this news, the only thing I could think to say was, "How do I get to Children's Hospital?"
The radiologist shook his head. "You won't be driving. An ambulance is already in route to take you there."
Wow, I thought, this is serious. At the time, I knew little about hematomas, other than they were a collection of blood, usually clotted, caused by internal bleeding. In the coming days, I was to learn far more about them than I'd ever imagined.
Connor was loaded into the back of the ambulance on a gurney, and I sat in the front passenger's seat while two emergency medical technicians monitored my son. My mind raced as fast as the ambulance's engine as we sped through the streets of Washington. Why was this happening? How could such a serious injury have resulted from a fluke play? How would this injury affect my son's life?
All I could do was send up a little prayer and comfort my son by assuring him he'd be getting the best care possible. He was incredibly brave throughout, far more calm and collected than I was.
At Children's, we were met by a team of specialists. After a number of tests, the neurologist gave us our first piece of good news. The hematoma was on the outside of Connor's brain, and wasn't interfering with his mental or physical functions.
But there was also some bad news. The hematoma was so large it was causing Connor excruciating headaches, requiring morphine to manage his pain. We waited a day to see if the hematoma would shrink in size, but when it didn't, we consulted one of the hospital's skilled neurosurgeons, Dr. John Myseros. As we were discussing the pros and cons of surgery, my son spoke up and said, "I want the surgery."
Dr. Myseros liked Connor's decisiveness, and with our consent, operated immediately to remove the hematoma. The operation only lasted an hour, but to me, it felt like a lifetime. Dr. Myseros and his team drilled out a quarter size plate in my son's skull, cleaned out the clotted blood, and reattached the skull plate with titanium screws. Connor came out of surgery with a seven-inch incision and his head was wrapped in gauze like a mummy, but his headaches were gone.
Connor has made a full recovery. Going into the hospital the day he was injured, I couldn't help thinking how unlucky we were because of a fluke ball toss. By the time we left the hospital on Connor's day of discharge, I couldn't help thinking how fortunate we had been. Connor's scary ordeal had a best-case outcome, and for that, we have Dr. Myseros and the other amazing doctors, nurses, and technicians at Children's Hospital to thank. Besides the excellent medical care Connor received, I most appreciated the kindness, patience and understanding the Center's staff showed to my son, his mom and me. There was nothing they wouldn't do for us.
Many other parents feel the same way, as demonstrated by the letters they've sent to Children's National Medical Center describing their experiences. You can read these letters for yourself and see just how much the doctors, nurses, and staff mean to these families, many of whom come from around the world for treatment.
On subsequent visits to the hospital for check-ups, Connor and I saw some of these families and the children who'd come for medical treatment. Often the children were very sick, and I understood that several had cancer or brain tumors. The outcome for many of these kids wouldn't be as bright as my son's, and my heart went out to them. But I took comfort in knowing they were receiving the very best care from some of the country's most talented, dedicated, and compassionate medical professionals.
If you have the opportunity, remember to thank these angels in white lab coats and green scrubs who work in our nation's children's hospitals. Making a donation, serving as a volunteer or simply saying thank you, goes a long way toward supporting the incredible services they provide. And it just might help them save the life of a child, as they did mine.
John McCormick and his sons William and Connor are the authors of "Dad, Tell Me A Story," How to Revive the Tradition of Storytelling with Your Children (Nicasio Press 2010). For more information about family storytelling, visit the authors' website and blog at http://DadTellMeAStory.com.
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